TREES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU THINK

'The first Monday in October is the UN’s annual World Habitat Day and whilst the UN is focussing on human habitats and living conditions, we’re taking a look at the natural habitats that are interwoven with our daily lives.

Forests and trees supply more than 1 billion people with food, medicine and energy and house more than three quarters of every single thing that lives on land. Hundreds of millions of people living in rural areas, including many of the world’s poorest people, are completely dependent on forests for their food, shelter and livelihoods. The world population is predicted to rise from 7.6 billion, to over 10 billion by 2050 and the increase in global demand for food puts huge pressure on the way we use land, especially in developing countries, where most of today’s 800 million poorest people live. Deforestation – mainly from converting forests to farmland – threatens forest communities, indigenous people, and the variety of life on the planet.

BRITISH WOODLAND IS STRUGGLING

Britain remains one of the least-wooded countries in Europe and the tiny area of surviving ancient woodland is still under threat. Woodland bird and butterfly populations are dropping and traditional ways of managing woodlands such as coppicing (periodically cutting a tree down to ground level to stimulate growth) have declined significantly as the demand for wooden tools and crafts falls. As a result, many woodlands have either been left completely unmanaged or managed purely for timber which has led to a lack of trees at different stages of growth and so way less opportunities for animals to thrive. Woodland species are often not very mobile and the huge change in their habitat means isolated wildlife populations can be at risk of extinction on a local level.

Other problems

There are a lot of factors making this kind of problem worse other than management of woodland:

Deer overgrazing – which reduces the regrowth of young trees.

Tree diseases - and how unpredictable they are

Climate change – more storms, hotter temperatures causing trees to essentially ‘shut down’ and a change in rainfall (which either means they could die from lack of water, or the soil could get waterlogged, so the tree roots rot)

Development - particularly in the south-east of England where homes and roads threaten woodland.

3 TRILLION TREES

Trees play a crucial role supporting life across the globe, producing oxygen and absorbing climate-change-causing carbon dioxide but – even though it’s humans who are largely in control of the tree population, and benefit the most from the things they produce – most people probably don’t even know how many trees there are on Earth. (It’s close to 3 trillion, by the way).

People cut down approximately 15 billion trees each year and the global tree count has fallen by an estimated 46% since the beginning of human civilization. It’s not entirely down to us, as obviously climate plays a large part but human activity is the greatest predictor of whether trees will survive in a given area. Losses are currently most dramatic in tropical regions as land is cleared for agriculture and other commercial purposes, but they occur all over the globe.

Pigeon-holing habitats  as ‘woodland’, or ‘grassland’ may be useful for scientists but it makes it easy for the rest of us to forget that these systems, like everything on the planet, are all interlinked. Forest habitats play crucial roles in regulating water flow to wetlands and river habitats, and hedgerows provide vital shelter and wildlife corridors for species moving across grassland habitats.

Purple Emporer Butterfly, Woodpecker, Tawny Owl and Beetle

Species like the purple emporer butterfly, woodpecker, tawny owl and many beetles would be at risk of local extinction due to the loss of woodland in the UK (Photos: BBC and butterfly-conservation.org)

Losing forests and woodlands makes our own lives poorer, and our future more uncertain. Even in this country, woodlands are being lost at a rate which should cause concern. A report from the Woodland Trust shows that half of all our woods over 400 years old have been lost in the last 80 years. It is worth taking the time to think about what that means for our country, especially when we know that over 400 more ancient woodlands are now threatened.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The Forest of Marston Vale has planted over 1.5 million trees within its 61 square mile boundary, and is working hard to make this area greener and more resilient to the pressures put on it by an increasing population, increased pollution and increased loss of natural habitat through construction. Our woods are new ones, and cannot replace ancient woodland, but forestry is a long-term project. 10 years after planting, they already start to look like natural woodland. In 100 years they will be well on their way to looking like the ancient woodlands we recognise today. We are creating woodlands which will soak up carbon, stabilise soil systems, provide homes for wildlife and make lives better for everyone who lives here. But we can’t do it without your help.'

- Jo Roberts, Community Engagement Officer

Help us plant more trees

Trees do more than produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide - they provide valuable habitats for thousands of species. Help us to plant more, and get towards our goal of another 5 million in the Forest area!

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